“Attacks win you games, defense wins you titles” – Sir Alex Ferguson. Those were the famous words of the great Scottish manager and over time he was lucky enough to manage some of the most important defenders to United’s success
United have had a plethora of great defenders that were quintessential to the foundations of success at Old Trafford. We have already taken a look at some of the best midfielders so far UtdDistrict’s top five defenders of all time, that was extremely difficult to choose from:
5. Gary Neville
He may now be a Sky Sports pundit but the Class of 92 member held down the right-back position for 13 seasons, you don’t basically own a position at United for that many years by sheer luck.
His biography is aptly titled ‘Red’, there probably isn’t a former player that cares or supports the club with the same furious passion as Neville played with.
Combining for many years bombing down the right with real life buddy David Beckham, in a telepathic relationship.
Neville going forward is often something forgotten when you think of his time as a footballer. There isn’t a right back that comes close to achieving what he did with United, it’s almost a boring option as it’s so obvious to have him on the list but that’s how inevitable Neville was in the prime Ferguson years.
The treble season, two Champions League titles, eight Premier League titles, Neville saw it all and was part of the furniture whilst doing so, someone who was never afraid to stand up for what he believed was right and that hasn’t changed since retiring . Whether it was staring Patrick Vieira in the eye as he shook his hand or constantly tearing into the Glazer ownership, Neville has always had the tenacious fearlessness of a United player.
4. Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce was part of the formidable United team that started a dynasty. The team of King Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, a young Roy Keane and at it’s heart an intimidating partnership with the Dolly to his Daisy (to this day no one knows which one is which) Gary Pallister, the names listed alone are not a team you would want to fight against.
The inception of a very good Premier League team is always the most difficult. United hadn’t won the title for 26 years before the 1992/93 season, after that there was no stopping the Red Devils. But Bruce was there for the five seasons where Ferguson wasn’t always hailed as the great manager he is today, in fact quite the opposite. United didn’t become magically brilliant overnight and there’s something poignant about a man like Bruce being part of the beginning of it all.
For Bruce being the leader and captain for a majority of the 1992/93 season and for those two goals against Sheffield Wednesday alone you could make a case for him being on the list.
It signaled a paradigm shift, from United being pretenders to the real deal. There is a reason Roy Keane captained the United side the way he did, he cut his teeth in that hard as nails dressing room and Bruce was as tough as they came.
3. Jaap Stam
It is always a tragedy to think that Jaap Stam only spent three seasons at Old Trafford. Pushed out perhaps by a controversial biography and a ruthless Sir Alex who would eventually regret the decision to sell him.
In 2022, defenders are almost required to be excellent at playing out from the back, like most footballers these days you simply can’t have one function anymore. Stam was remarkable in the sense that he was coming to the fore where defenders were starting to do more things than just head it, kick it, clear it.
Superb on-ball ability and remarkably quick, he won a hat-trick of Premier League titles and was quintessential in the treble season, he was so good he would probably have been higher had he spent a couple more seasons with United.
2. Rio Ferdinand
Going through the list is perhaps a stark reminder of how regularly United used to churn out great defenders year after year, rising to the occasion and pressures of the club. Ferdinand arrived as the most expensive British footballer in history at the time but by the end of his legendary Man United career £30m looked like a bargain.
Ferdinand almost glided around the pitch, strolling through games with a cigarette in his mouth rarely a speck of mud on his shorts, he made defending look as easy as Virgil Van Dijk does.
Part of Ferguson’s and arguably Man United’s last great team; the Rooney-Ronaldo-Tevez trifecta had Rio at the back keeping the ship steady and steering it in the right direction without breaking a sweat.
1. Nemanja Vidic
There are many reasons the Serbian Terminator of a defender tops the list at number one. Elite decision-making, towering presence, monumental strength and second to none tackling, he could even get you five or six goals from corners in the right season.
Yes, Fernando Torres did him over in a few games, I stress a few because this myth of Torres tearing into Vidic every time he came up against him is simply not true. In 15 games Torres scored three times and was on the winning side five times out of 15 and in two of those games barely played.
That doesn’t taint Vidic’s legacy in the slightest, he’s at number 1 because he was a £7 million bargain from Spartak Moscow and embodies one of Fergie’s finest traits as a manager especially during the latter years as more foreign players were signed. The ability to find hidden gems plucking them from the relative unknown as they adapt to the Premier League and to the pressures of being a Manchester United player, before killing it season after season making the transfer look like a masterstroke, and Vidic is a prime example of that.